BLACKSBURG, Va., May 22, 2012 – Sometimes, Virginia Tech associate professor Matt Eick lets his students stumble on their path to discovery.
“He would never give you an answer, instead he would ask probing questions to enable graduate students to arrive at the correct answer,” said Todd Luxton, who had Eick as a professor when Luxton was earning his master's degree and doctorate from Virginia Tech. “This approach to mentoring graduate students is far more time consuming, but far more helpful to students in the long run.”
Eick’s teaching philosophy, along with his development of technological teaching aids and his well-designed lab section, has earned him accolades from his students and fellow professors in the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences.
Eick has developed interactive online tutorials in soil science and soil chemistry. Students built 3-D crystal structures of primary and clay minerals utilizing emergent graphics technology. This helped students to visualize mineral structures and component atoms in three dimensions.
These technological teaching aids are easy to use and helped to simplify many complex concepts behind clay mineralogy, said Devin Rippner, a crop and soil environmental sciences graduate research assistant.
“They are also freely available online, making them a great resource for soils professionals and students at other schools,” he said.
“He then reshaped major components to bring the methods up-to-date and to strengthen the course,” said David Hicks, associate professor in history and social science education. While no longer actively teaching in the labs, Eick says he still takes pride in his ongoing level of support in training and preparing the graduate teaching assistants, Hicks said.
Eick’s teaching philosophy also emphasizes real-world applications and solutions.
He was an environmental consultant and oversight contractor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and can relate many important concepts in his courses to practical experiences. His senior-level environmental soil chemistry course culminates with a case study on an actual hazardous waste site where Eick was a consultant.
Many of Virginia Tech’s environmental science students get jobs for environmental consulting firms and regulatory agencies. Among those is Eick’s former student, Luxton.
“Matt is one of the biggest influences on both my professional career and personal life,” Luxton said.
Nationally ranked among the top research institutions of its kind, Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences focuses on the science and business of living systems through learning, discovery, and engagement. The college’s comprehensive curriculum gives more than 3,100 students in a dozen academic departments a balanced education that ranges from food and fiber production to economics to human health. Students learn from the world’s leading agricultural scientists, who bring the latest science and technology into the classroom.